Remembrance Day

The Missouri foothills have been both the home and final resting place for my family going back seven generations. Along about the 1850s Thomas Ryerson was the first in the line to settle in the Oak Hill community to try and pull a living out of hardscrabble ground. He married a Souders girl, and others who followed him provided the family names woven into our history. Not that you’d be so inclined, but you’d be hard pressed to find a map with Oak Hill on it as the town has been all but defunct for at least the last couple of these generations.

The old bank and few other buildings still stand, but it takes a discerning eye and even a reliable guide to get you back to what’s left of the town, and the few squatters there probably like it that way. A visit there is best assayed in daylight. It’s still largely a rural area and the cemeteries typically don’t bear fancy, aspirational names suggesting peace and eternity. Many are named after the original farmstead where the cemetery is located and some may be named for a community now as dead as those who are buried in its namesake. Significant numbers of my ancestors rest in the Oak Hill cemetery or at the Mounts farm.

My maternal grandfather used to take me out to Oak Hill when I was a boy to walk among the stones and tell me stories about the people he knew there. Most of these I’ve forgotten, but I’ve always remembered the headstone of a girl named Bonnie because she had been about my age (at the time of my first visit) when she died in the early 40s in an automobile accident. Her headstone featured a black and white photo of a blonde girl. Eight years ago my grandfather finally caught up with his friends and family and we brought him back to Oak Hill at the head of a procession that was so long that at one point I looked back and could see the road running across three hilltops and every car in sight was part of the cortege.

Memorial Day weekend and I’m back in the family stomping grounds so I offer to take my grandmother, who will be 89 this June, out to Mounts to visit her mother’s grave and to Oak Hill. Like my grandfather before me I also bring along a youngster, my 11-year-old daughter.

2 thoughts on “Remembrance Day

  1. I love “Eats, Shoots and Leaves!” It was one of my favorite Christmas presents. I love the English language, but clearly this woman loves it on a whole different level. She’s a delightful author. You have wonderful taste in books.

  2. And you, Portia, have wonderful taste in your blogroll!

    I like to read a few pages of “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” each morning to make me paranoid about my punctuation the rest of the day. By the way, ever notice that the initials for this book are “ESL” – also commonly used as shorthand for “English as a Second Language”? I think the book demonstrates that it really is a second language, even for “English” speakers.

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